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Inn's Victorian aura a comfort to Chester, Vt.

Inn Victoria in Chester, Vt., was built in the 1850s as a private home. Under its British owners, the inn everywhere reflects that queen's era, from the wallpaper to the art to the silver-plate tea service to the bedside lamps.
Inn Victoria in Chester, Vt., was built in the 1850s as a private home. Under its British owners, the inn everywhere reflects that queen's era, from the wallpaper to the art to the silver-plate tea service to the bedside lamps. (David Lyon for the Boston Globe)
Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / January 13, 2008

CHESTER, Vt. - Julie Pierce chuckled when we told her that we were from Cambridge, Mass. "We're from Cambridge, too," she said, "Cambridge, England!"

While we'd only booked a quick ski country getaway, Julie and husband Jon, a former member of the British Royal Air Force, were enjoying an extended adventure. "We gave up proper jobs in England," she said, to become Vermont innkeepers.

"It seemed like destiny," Julie said of their discovery of Inn Victoria, an 1850s home that has been a B&B since 1988. The inn was already named for the queen, and each of seven guest rooms bore the name of one of her children. When the Pierces became owners in early 2005, Jon tackled extensive renovations and Julie took over the decorating.

"I'm a consummate decorator," she said, even admitting to a few astute purchases on eBay. Julie understands the subtleties of Victorian style and has put her stamp on the inn with a keen eye. "The queen had such a long life that taste changed," she explained. "Your room is in the more Gothic style from the end of her reign."

We had chosen the second-floor Princess Alice room, named for the "most emotionally sensitive" of the royal daughters, according to a biographical sketch in the room. Her spirit seemed to guide the choice of a wallcovering of soft roses on a beige background and treatments of lace curtains with burgundy swags around four large windows. A dark wood and woven cane headboard on the king-size bed contrasts with a gold brocade coverlet. A gas fireplace anchors the facing wall while a television, DVD player, and classical bust share the mantel. Yet there is still room for a curvaceous Victorian settee and a vanity with stool.

The bath is as large as many B&B budget rooms. The black and white floor is echoed in the tile framing the double whirlpool tub. A separate shower stall, handsome wooden vanity with a marble top, and mirror in a carved gold-leaf frame complete the look. We doubt that Queen Victoria ever had it quite so good - or that her retainers left rubber duckies (or whirlpool-friendly bath salts).

The first-floor public rooms are cozy and comfortable without feeling overdone. Couches in the parlor (with its electric fireplace) and in the adjoining den (with television, DVD player, and film library) are banked with some of the most inviting pillows we've ever settled into. The formal dining room features a large mahogany table and chairs, a crystal chandelier, and a silver-plate tea set on the sideboard. The whimsical burgundy wallpaper depicts cherubs cavorting among doves and flowers.

Several couples have been married in the parlor near a portrait of Queen Victoria over the sideboard where Julie sets out a sherry decanter and cut-crystal glasses. Guests, however, are often more struck by a recent photo of Julie in the kitchen standing next to her commercial mixer and holding a big cookbook.

"I'm Miss October," she said of the mock-pinup calendar she helped produce to support town projects. According to Julie, all the women who gamely shed their clothes and posed behind strategically placed props are at least 45 years old. We kept an eye out for other spunky models while we strolled Chester's short but colorful Main Street, stopping in the funky whole-foods grocer and cafe, Moon Dog, and the excellent Misty Valley Books.

Once the sun set and snow started falling, we claimed a fireside table in the Fullerton Inn's Bradford Tavern. Diners can choose from the casual pub menu or, as we did, from the more extensive dining room menu. We shared a tangy plate of vegetable potstickers with peanut sauce and mango chutney, then went our separate ways with a vegetarian mushroom ravioli in tomato-sherry cream sauce and a juicy strip sirloin steak au poivre. Full but tempted, we ended up sharing a rich chocolate and caramel pyramid of mousse.

The next morning Julie was in the kitchen bright and early to whip up some cranberry scones; a parfait of pineapple, granola, and yogurt; and baked eggs with red peppers. Jon kept pouring coffee while Julie prepared a pot of proper British tea. And she was fully clothed the whole time.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon, Cambridge-based writers, can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

If You Go

Inn Victoria

321 Main St.
Chester, Vt.
802-875-4288
innvictoria.com

What we liked most: Our conversations with the genuinely hospitable innkeepers.

What we liked least: We would have worn nicer socks it we had known that we would be asked to take off our shoes at the door. What surprised us: The large size of our guest room and the public areas.

You know you're at Inn Victoria when . . . Bronte, the fluffy tortoise-shell cat, comes over to be petted.

Rates: Double room rates range from $115 (for a small room with private bath in the hall) to $295 per night, including a full cooked breakfast. We paid $195 for the Princess Alice room midweek in early December. The inn does not accept children under age 15. Fullerton Inn, 40 the Common, 802-875-2444, fullertoninn.com. Open for dinner Monday-Saturday. Entrees $10-$24.

Directions: The inn is 145 miles, or about 3 hours 10 minutes from Boston. Take Route 2 west to Interstate 91 in Greenfield. Head north on I-91 to exit 6 in Vermont. Take Route 103 west for 10 miles into Chester. At intersection of Routes 103 and 11, continue straight on Route 11 (Main Street). Inn is on the left.

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